CAMP HANSON, Helmand province, Afghanistan – “The enemy is always going to adapt. They are always going to find new ways of setting off IEDs… sometimes you will find something on a patrol and be blown out of the water wondering how they even thought to come up with this device,” said Cpl. David S. Cluver, a dog handler and mortarman with Jump Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “They are going to keep on adapting, however, the odor of the explosives will not change.“
Enter Jawdy. At only four-years-old, this black Labrador retriever and her K-9 crew of almost 20 have been leading the Marines of 3/6 into battle since the battalion arrived in Marjah district earlier this year. Jawdy is a military working dog, but unlike the dogs most people see with military police which are trained to protect, attack and find drugs, Jawdy and the dogs here are strictly used to sniff out homemade explosives and improvised explosive devices.
Cluver, a native of Buckley, Ill., said he applied for his current position after working with dog handlers on his last deployment.
“I saw what they got to do so I decided I wanted to volunteer for it this time,” Cluver said. “I love it, I absolutely love it, and I think it is the best job in the Marine Corps.”
Though the program is still relatively new, Marines who work with dogs like Jawdy on a daily basis understand the value their canine counterparts can bring to the counter IED fight.
“These dogs can pick up on just about anything used to make HME,” said Cluver. “Sometimes we come across things that the metal detector won’t find… maybe the mine roller won’t find something that is buried so well you won’t see it with the naked eye. But the dog will smell it.”
Staff Sgt. Ricky Allen, 3/6 kennel supervisor, said that the dogs drastically increase the safety of Marines hunting for IEDs.
“These dogs are meant for complete off-leash working with a maximum of 50 meters away from the handlers so it will remain easier to control the dog,” said Allen, a native of Lakeview, Mich. “This gives us a bigger stand off than a lot of the other tools we use.”
Allowing the dogs to operate off leash means a significant amount of time and effort spent by handlers to maintain the discipline and proficiency of their four-legged bomb detectors.
“We train with them twice a day, one to one and a half hours in the morning and evening,” Allen said. “I bring them here [Camp Hanson] a few at a time about once a month for five days to train them. [We] keep the dogs in good working order so that Marines at the patrol bases can just maintain the basic training.”
“We vary the training, working on basic commands and point to point drills,” continued Allen. “These are controlled drills to keep the dog in line… The dog goes out, searches certain spots and you call it back.”
During these drills, the dogs must recognize certain hand and arm signals used by the handler to guide them in the battlespace. After directions are given by the handlers, the noses go to work.
“When we walk into a pizza place all we smell is pizza, whereas a dog smells all the different ingredients, the pepperoni, the sausage, the anchovies,” Cluver explained. “When they are being trained they learn the odors individually. When they get out here they are able to put them all together.”
Cluver said that the relationship between a dog and his handler is one of the most important things about the job.
“The relationship is important because you know all of its behaviors,” said Cluver.
“It’s a mutual bond between the dog and the handler. Sometimes the dog can tell if you are having a bad day and will adapt to you. If you are feeling down or missing home the dog can tell and will cheer you up.”
The dogs here, many of which have multiple combat tours under their collars, are here for the duration the battalion’s deployment. They will receive additional training upon returning to the U.S. before being reassigned to a new handler.
The dogs, just like the Marines who handle them, have a purpose and duty to the Corps. Unfortunately, sometimes that duty calls for them to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of their Marine counterparts.
“I’ve only been with Jawdy for about a month now, and she’s a wild one, a crazy happy dog,” said Cluver. “My last dog laid on a pressure plate. He was a good dog, he did his job and saved three Marines’ lives.”
Cluver concluded that the value of these dogs to Marines operating in southern Helmand cannot be overstated.
“I would take an asset that can smell HME over a metal detector any day of the week because there are so many metal objects out here it doesn’t matter what you are doing you are going to hit on something metal,” he said. “I would not want to go on patrol without one.”
Editor’s note: Third battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.